‘Help for Heroes’ parades and Armed Forces Day approaches in the next week or two. As I write this the 70th anniversary of the surrender of the 51st Highland Division and their French Army comrades took place at St Valery en Caux in Normandy. It was a military catastrophe that touched nearly every Highland and NE Scottish home from Caithness to Oban and from Stornoway to Aberdeen.
We should also recall the bravery of present day troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wounds to mind and body inflicted there and remember that all war is hell, so much so that the same bewilderment haunts each generation. Last week a journalist posed the question, “How can we stop wars happening?” and a St Valery veteran said, “I don’t know, does anyone know?”
I’ve been asked to join the reviewing officer with other community leaders at the Help for Heroes march due in Tain on Saturday 19th June. Memories and thoughts rush to mind at such times. I visited St Valery three years ago and wrote of the experience and feelings of pride for these brave men following Churchill’s orders to divert the crack German divisions away from the Dunkirk rescue mission. I also think of my future son-in-law who will marry my step-daughter in early July. He has done tours of nail biting duty in Basra and Helmand as a TA volunteer. Thankfully he survived and did his duty. Back home on each of these six month tours of duty the family could barely watch the box as the casualties mounted.
Imagine the numbing pain of not knowing the fate of loved ones in World War 2 as a looked-for letter was the only means to know if your relative or friend had reached the ‘safety’ of a POW camp. But even worse think again on the lingering hopelessness of those left behind when their loved ones paid the ultimate price for freedom.
Can we stop wars? I believe the United Nations needs a radical overhaul 65 years on from VE Day. It should not rest on the nuclear powers that were victorious decades ago. In parallel, the most powerful nations have had to expand the economic club from G7 to G20 to acknowledge the shift in power to the developing world. Can war be stopped? We must never give up on trying by peaceful persuasion and fair trade. Meantime the most powerful need is to stop nuclear proliferation and for the ConDem UK Government to scrap Trident as the first step in that direction in its defence review instead of cutting ground troops and air sea rescue planes. But will the LibDems insist?
You would think that Labour leadership candidates would show a bit of humility following their part in the biggest recession the UK has seen since the 1930s. Not a bit of it, barring Diane Abbot. Incredibly poll leader David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary wants Scotland to be a test bed for Labour welfare policies to roll out south of the Border.
Meanwhile the real debate is about the engagement between the Scottish Government and the UK ConDem Government. It revolves around financial responsibility. This was ignored and vetoed by the previous Labour cabinet and failed to be addressed by the leadership contenders in their Glasgow hustings.
An impressive array of Scottish business leaders, academics and social activists has lined up behind the non party Campaign for Financial Responsibility CFFR. They include Jim MacColl CEO of Clyde Blowers, Campbell Christie, former STUC chief and Highlander Dan MacDonald, CEO of MacDonald Estates, property developers and many more.
Ben Thomson, chairman of the independent think-tank Reform Scotland and spokesman for CFFR, said: “The initial response to the campaign has been extraordinary. It would appear there is a real groundswell of opinion in favour of giving Holyrood responsibility for raising as well as spending the money it receives. Over the next few weeks and months we are confident the campaign will continue to gather strength and help stimulate the debate.”
They see the Calman Commission’s recommendations on tax-raising powers, which were backed by the main opposition parties in Scotland, as a possible damage to the economy. Therefore a Scottish Parliament with greater responsibility for raising the money it spends would lead to better government in Scotland.
The CFFR claims financial responsibility would make politicians more accountable for financial decisions taken and give both the incentive and the fiscal tools that are vital to improve public services and stimulate real economic growth with a bonus of a healthier relationship between Westminster and Holyrood.
Jim MacColl believes that Scotland is standing at the crossroads of an enormous opportunity. He said, “Across civic society, within the business community and among all political parties, there is a broad consensus that we must enter into a new era of economic responsibility.”
As the building blocks are put in place to develop the Far North economy post-Dounreay I urge local business leaders concerned citizens and academics to explore the CFFR campaign. We know that a healthy economy is needed to support a proper public sector such as health and education. Sir Tom Hunter the retail millionaire has backed the fiscal responsibility argument and it’s a lesson for us here.
He endowed the Centre for Entrepreneurship in Strathclyde University which reported that new business start ups declined in Scotland by 18 per cent between 2008 and 2009, taking it to 3.6 per cent – behind the almost static UK estimate of 5.8 per cent last year. Yet countries in the "arc of prosperity" – the Scottish Government's term for nations such as Norway, Denmark and Iceland – fared better.
While Labour is navel gazing real progress can be made by the Scottish Government and by us locally. I believe that we need to understand just how urgent it is to get Scotland moving through borrowing powers and tax powers in this competitive world for example right here in Caithness and north Sutherland.